It has been a wonderful year of firsts. I recently celebrated my first year as British Columbia’s agriculture minister and I am proud to say that I am also our province’s first female in this role. The Ministry of Agriculture’s budget is now more than $93 million, the largest budget the ministry has ever seen. And now, I am honoured to provide my first message to Delta Optimist readers in this annual agriculture feature.
It’s no secret that I love agriculture. I grew up on Quadra Island learning the value of growing your own food. It was a sustainable lifestyle that made a lasting impression. It built a passion for all things agriculture in me.
My journey also included establishing and managing Vancouver Island’s first certified organic vineyard and then into politics where I was the opposition agriculture critic for eight years. And now, my dream job as B.C.’s agriculture minister.
One of my major goals since being appointed is to be a champion for B.C.’s farmland, including the incredible, fertile soil that Delta farmers are so fortunate to work with. As I was telling my colleagues last month at the federal, provincial, territorial agriculture ministers meeting in Vancouver, we are leaders in protecting farmland. Besides British Columbia, there are only two other provinces that have zones where agriculture is a priority.
Our province’s Agricultural Land Reserve was established in the 1970s and today there are 46,159 square kilometres throughout B.C. preserved for agricultural use. I have been given a mandate to look at ways we can revitalize the ALR and the Agricultural Land Commission.
While Delta farmers are busy working the land, the B.C. government has been working hard to ensure that land continues to be protected. The past six months were busy. I appointed an independent committee with diverse backgrounds and expertise in the agriculture sector in B.C. to lead the revitalization efforts. They travelled the province, meeting with local governments, as well as agricultural stakeholders, to hear their ideas on revitalizing the ALR and they also engaged British Columbians on their ideas through an online survey. I look forward to receiving their report and recommendations soon.
In the meantime, we just announced a new policy that gives local and First Nation governments the ability to prohibit certain cannabis production methods on the ALR in their communities. The federal government has announced it will allow cannabis producers to grow cannabis in open fields, greenhouses and industrial bunkers like any other agricultural crop.
Our point of view is that we don’t want to lose access to agricultural soil. That is why we have provided local governments with the decision-making power regarding concrete, bunker-style cannabis production on the ALR that align with local planning and priorities in their communities.
Just like that young girl on Quadra Island who grew up loving the land, our government is committed to protecting farmland and encouraging the next generation of farmers. From Cranbrook to Terrace to Delta, there are young people across B.C. learning to become young farmers. I encourage you to visit a farmers market this summer and meet them. It is an investment in their family, your family and your local community.
Lana Popham is the B.C. Minister of Agriculture